How Soon

Dr. R. H. Brown, Bolivia

When the disciples accompanied the Lord Jesus to Jerusalem on the day after He had cursed the barren fig tree they were struck with the rapidity with which the sentence had been carried into effect (see Matt. 21. 20 and Mark 11. 20). We are told that it had withered up from its roots; the curse was irrevocable. The man in Luke 13, who had planted a fig tree in his vineyard, came seeking fruit on it. Leaves without fruit, profession without productivity, satisfies neither God nor man. Indeed this fig tree was cumbering the ground; not merely using up the space but taking the place that could have been utilized by a more fruitful tree. Yet in this case the sentence was postponed and a second chance given. When we really mourn our fruitlessness the remedy is not far to seek and God is wonderfully patient with all those who have even a faint desire to bear fruit for His glory. He is glorified in that we bear not leaves but fruit.
We have to be constantly on the watch against processes which can so soon sap our usefulness, both in our private and in our church testimony. This can be illustrated by the history of the Ephesian church. It had an inauspicious beginning with a few powerless, legalistic disciples who knew nothing of the person of the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit came down in wondrous grace; life began to flow and fruit to be produced. The early days of the Ephesian church were occasions for mighty displays of the Spirit's power, and evil forces were openly put to shame. Christians were willing to suffer pecun-iary loss in order to have a clean testimony and the word of God was preached in all Asia. How the believers must have drunk in the words of the apostle Paul as he taught them night by night in the school of Tyrannus, Acts 19. 9. His own life was an example to them as he laboured night and day, supporting himself by his own work and declaring the whole counsel of God to the Christians. He was free from covetousness of every description and his sole ambition was to bear testimony to the Gospel of the grace of God, shedding tears over those who would not hear and over backsliding Christians, Acts. 20. 26-31.
Four years after the commencement of the Lord's work in Ephesus there were elders in the church to whom he addressed no word of rebuke (although he warned them of declension) and seven years later he wrote to the church an epistle contain-ing perhaps the most wonderful truths ever revealed to a company of Christians. They were in a condition to receive and appreciate these truths.
Thus the tree flourished and fructified. But ten years after its founding we find the apostle writing to Timothy who had been left to teach the Christians in Ephesus, and in his letter we can perceive indications that the fine gold was beginning to become dim. Evidently some were openly teaching false doctrine and legalistic teachers were expressing themselves in a wilderness of words in which both they and their hearers were lost. How soon had the fig tree begun to wither!
Twenty years later this withering process had progressed to such an extent that the Head Gardener Himself had occasion to threaten that He would cut down the tree if the church did not remember and repent. There was much to commend in the Ephesian church as recorded in Revelation 2, but the most precious fruit of all was in danger of drying up -the fruit of love, that for which the Owner looks first as He comes seeking fruit in His garden.
Love is mentioned many times in the epistle to the Ephesians and it is possible for us to leave our first love in any of its manifestations described there. Before the foundation of the world we were chosen in Him that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 1. 4. Love to all saints is mentioned in verse 15. What a fruitful tree it was when the communion of the early 'brethren' extended to all the saints, and how God blessed this lovely manifestation of the unity of all true Christians! But alas, how soon was the tree withered through the blight of sectarianism. Even now it is not too late for every church to 'remember and repent' so that God may again visit us as in the days of yore. Chapters 2. 4 and 3. 19 speak of the love of God and the love of Christ which passes all knowledge. If our love for Him is renewed day by day as the Spirit strengthens us in the inner man then no fruit will be lacking. Chapters 4. 2,15 and 5. 2 speak of love one to another as Christians and chapter 5. 25 reminds us that even the most intimate personal family relationships need to be sanctified by love wrought in us by the Spirit. The last verse of the epistle returns to the One whom we love because He first loved us. If as we read these verses there is a responsive chord struck in our hearts and a deeper longing to be restored to our pristine fruitfulness let us 'remember' and 'repent' and return to Him, who, as we do so, will return to us in pardon and blessing.